4 out of 5 stars
When Zoya became my favorite character in King of Scars, I knew that Leigh Bardugo could really do anything. When I read Rule of Wolves, high on the binged achievement of “Shadow and Bone”‘s Netflix mashup, it made a perfectly satisfying dessert.
It begins: Nikolai is king, Ravka is a mess, war is coming, and everything is bad for the Grisha. Caught always between using their powers for good or evil, the Grisha find themselves further stripped of this decision. The Fjerdens have no more Mattiases, just brutal witch-hunters and jurda parem. This highly addictive drug amplifies Grisha powers, and is used to enslave captured Grisha and set them loose on the battlefield against their bretheren. Also opposing Ravka is Shu Han, where the evil queen works to create a race of Grisha supersoldiers for the same purpose. Nikolai and his merry band, including the Grisha triumvirate installed by Alina Starkov, must work to stop – at at least stall – on every front.
In King of Scars, loving Zoya was a surprise. Now, it’s a banner to carry. Nikolai is charming and disarming, Tamir and Tolya loyal and brave, Genya and David wise and capable. But Zoya is a force to be reckoned with. Literally, she controls the weather and storms. But in her final step from Darkling-groupie to world-savior, she learns to control herself. And in writing it Bardugo crafts an all-time, hall of fame female protagonist.
This story is like a firework, zooming everywhere and narrowly avoiding explosion. Each chapter advances the plot at light speed. Much of it centers around beloved Nina Zenik, undercover at the Fjerden court as a spy, and so much more. She’s the heart of the Grishaverse even when the story isn’t centered on her. The plot is intricate and leans heavily on its backstory, so get a good refresher on King of Scars before you start.
So why not five stars for Rule of Wolves? Genocidal war isn’t as much fun as the ice court heist in Six of Crows. Commander Brum is serviceably awful, but no one will ever fill the Darkling’s love/hate bad boy/guy role. The will-they-or-won’t-they romance here is important, but not scintillating. Overall, it’s a grown up chapter in a story of characters we’ve watched grow up. The story is proud of who they’ve become, even if it meant leaving some of their whiz-bang behind.